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Oasa DuVerney: Street Cred in Non-Street Places
Certain moments send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs. Like thunder they drown you in sound, no, like lightning they strike you across the larynx.
Claudia Rankine, Citizen
Oasa DuVerney’s subjects are oppression, power and transcendence, and the works in “Street Cred in Non-Street Places” are simple, heavy and sublime. Her large-scale graphite drawings depict singular overpowering subjects such as a menacing wave in “Off Shoring” or an enormous eagle perched on a collapsed woman in “Imperialism,” picking its meal out of her skull. “Dark Cloud” shows a heavy storm cloud, rendered in puffs and scrolls of graphite, a sharp lightning streak slicing out of it, through the paper. DuVerney’s graphite marks are fiercely inflicted on the paper, building texture and grain almost into three dimensions, so that light glistens and glints off the surfaces, their beauty seducing while their imagery threatens. Heightening the 3D effects of the surface texture, the drawings feature precise cuts where bright colors are visible underneath, offering slivers of what could be sunlight or blood, hope or pain.
While nature’s threatening power is certainly hearkened here, there is no avoiding the cultural references behind DuVerney’s iconic American imagery in the eagle, or the coiled double snake of “Lay Waste.” This is reinforced by other works whose sunnier colors and imagery belie more direct punches, such as custom-designed rainbow pins lined up in a wall cabinet designed for displaying military medals; words in cheerful script where clouds might be read, “White Privilege Kills.” The pins are a brilliant alloy, fusing together rainbow cheer and righteous rage with the gallows humor of wanting to see those things made into one.
In addition to DuVerney’s solo art practice, she works together with Mildred Beltré as Brooklyn Hi-Art Machine, an activist social practice collaboration that brings artmaking to the streets of their Brooklyn community and fosters dialogue on topics such as housing rights. The title of DuVerney’s show highlights the fact that like most exhibitions it takes place in an art gallery. That context has a meaning that should not be ignored or viewed as neutral.